Lawrence Baca Wins FBA’s Sarah T. Hughes Civil Rights Award

Congratulations, Lawrence on this well-deserved honor!!

Lawrence Baca’s Bio

Lawrence Baca is a Pawnee Indian and at the time of his retirement was Deputy Director of the Office of Tribal Justice, United States Department of Justice. Formerly a Senior Trial Attorney in the Civil Rights Division, he was previously assigned to the Educational Opportunities Litigation Section for twelve years, the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section for eight years, the General Litigation Section for two years and the Office of Indian Rights for four years. The Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights said of Baca that he’d filed more cases on behalf of American Indians in his career than any other attorney in the history of the Civil Rights Division. His civil rights work on behalf of American Indians in the areas of Credit, Voting Rights and Education was groundbreaking.

A 1976 graduate of Harvard Law School, Baca was one of the first American Indians to graduate from Harvard. He was the first American Indian ever hired through the Department of Justice’s Honor Law Program and also the first Indian ever promoted up through the ranks to Senior Trial Attorney status at the Department. At the time of his retirement Baca had served more years with the Department of Justice than any other American Indian lawyer.

In 1973, Baca received his Bachelor of Arts Degree in “American Indian History and Culture” from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he also taught two courses on Indian issues during his senior year. In 1974, while attending law school, he was a Harvard Teaching Fellow at Harvard University and, in 1976, he taught a course entitled “Perspectives On The Historical Development of American Indian Policy and Law” at the Harvard University Extension School. In 1988, Mr. Baca was presented with a Distinguished Alumni Award by the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has been an Adjunct Professorial Lecturer teaching Federal Indian Law at American University Washington College of Law in 2004 and 2005 and he founded the course in Federal Indian Law at the Howard University School of Law in 2007 where he was an Adjunct Professor of Law.

As a member of the American Bar Association, Mr. Baca was Chairman of the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession from 2002-2005. Previously he has worked with the Younger Lawyers Division, the Section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities, the Committee on Minorities in the Profession and the Council on Racial and Ethnic Justice. Baca has been a Program Coordinator of the Committee on Problems of American Indians and has given numerous lectures on the role of American Indian Lawyers as minority members of the majority bar. He also lectures frequently on the role of race in society, civil rights law and federal Indian law.

He is a past President of the National Native American Bar Association (NNABA) and has served on its board of directors, in various capacities, for twenty-six of the past thirty-five years. He has served as President of NNABA three times.

Mr. Baca is a member of the Federal Bar Association (FBA). In 2009-10 he served as national President. He was the first American Indian ever elected to be national president of a non-minority bar association. He previously served for 20 years as Chairman of the Indian Law Section which he created. The Indian Law Section sponsors the largest annual federal Indian law conference in America. Under Mr. Baca’s leadership, the program tripled in attendance during his chairmanship of the Indian Law Section.

Mr. Baca is a nationally recognized authority on federal Indian law and race and is a frequent lecturer at colleges and law schools.

A noted amateur photographer his work has appeared on the cover of the Federal Bar Association magazine, “The Federal Lawyer,” nineteen times. The April 2005 edition contained a retrospective of his cover photos.

More information on the award is below:

The Sarah T. Hughes Civil Rights Award

Named after the renowned federal district judge from Dallas, Texas, the Sarah T. Hughes Civil Rights Award was created to honor that man or woman who promotes the advancement of civil and human rights amongst us, and who exemplifies Judge Hughes’ spirit and legacy of devoted service and leadership in the cause of equality. Judge Hughes was a pioneer in the fight for civil rights, due process, equal protection, and the rights of women.

CRITERIA AND PROCESS: The Award will be presented each year at the President’s Installation Banquet to an attorney or judge whose career achievements have made a difference in advancing the causes that were important to Judge Hughes. Such work may include either ground-breaking achievement or a body of sustained and dedicated work in the area of civil rights, due process, and equal protection. The nominee should have at least ten years of practice. The nominee must either be a member in good standing of a state bar association or retired. The nominee should demonstrate sustained and verifiable excellence in the legal profession, and be of good character.

Tenth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Section 1983 Claim against Navajo Nation and Navajo Courts

Here is the unpublished opinion in Chavez v. Navajo Nation Tribal Courts.

An excerpt:

The district court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction. The court held that Mr. Chavez’s lawsuit against the Tribal officials could not be maintained in federal court under §1983 because all of his challenges to the Tribal officials’ actions relied on Tribal law. See Burrell v. Armijo, 456 F.3d 1159, 1174 (10th Cir. 2006) (“A § 1983 action is unavailable for persons alleging deprivation of constitutional rights under color of tribal law, as opposed to state law.” (internal quotation marks omitted)); see also Polk Cnty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 315 (1981) (observing that acting under color of state law is “a jurisdictional requisite for a § 1983 action”). Turning to the Tribe, the court held–after noting that Mr. Chavez failed to even address the Navajo Nation’s sovereignty–that Congress had not authorized suit “against tribal entities pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” R. at 631. See Nanomantube v. Kickapoo Tribe in Kan., 631 F.3d 1150, 1152 (10th Cir. 2011) (“[A]n Indian tribe is not subject to suit in a federal or state court unless the tribe’s sovereign immunity has been either abrogated by Congress or waived by the tribe.”); E.F.W. v. St. Stephen’s Indian High Sch., 264 F.3d 1297, 1302-03 (10th Cir. 2001) (observing that tribal sovereign immunity “is a matter of subject matter jurisdiction”).
Mr. Chavez appeals.

Briefs and lower court materials are here.

Talk tomorrow at Hamline on Tribes and Civil Rights

Anyone in the Twin Cities is invited to come to Hamline University Law School tomorrow at noon to hear Federal Magistrate Judge Brisbois (who is a White Earth descendant) and I talk about Indians and civil rights. Details below.

Friday, March 23, noon, Room 101

American Indians and Civil Rights: Magistrate Judge Leo Brisbois and Professor Ann Tweedy

(Faculty host: Cathy Deal)

CLE is applied for

NNBA Supports DOJ Investigation into Killing of Ditidaht Carver

The statement from the National Native American Bar Association can be found here. An excerpt:

The National Native American Bar Association (NNABA) condemns the killing of John T. Williams by a Seattle Police officer in August of 2010. Williams was a talented Ditidaht First Nations carver who for many years endured the significant challenges facing homeless Native people in Seattle. His killing has outraged the Tribal community and raised serious concerns about equal justice and Seattle Police Department accountability.

The following is a story about the investigation from earlier this month in the Seattle Times:

Two Seattle police officers have agreed to cooperate in the FBI’s investigation into the fatal shooting of woodcarver John T. Williams by a former officer, but only after they were subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury, according to police officials.


The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI are investigating whether Birk violated Williams’ civil rights.

The federal review into the shooting is separate from the Justice Department’s broad civil-rights investigation of the Police Department announced in March. That federal investigation is focused on allegations related to use-of-force and biased policing.

Partial Dismissal of Discrimination Complaint against Wells Fargo South Dakota

Here is the complaint in Torgerson v. Wells Fargo South Dakota (D.S.D.) — torgerson-complaint

And here is the opinion dismissing some of the counts on the pleadings — dct-order-torgerson-v-wells-fargo

Gensaw v. Del Norte School District – Yurok Civil Rights Complaint

The ACLU brought this claim on behalf of a class of Yurok middle school students objecting the closure of the school. In the words of the district court, “Plaintiffs allege that the Del Norte County Unified School District, its Superintendent, and five members of its Board discriminated against Native American students on the basis of race and/or national origin by deciding to close middle school grades of Margaret Keating Elementary School, located on the Yurok Reservation in Klamath, California.” Slip op. at

The district court granted parts of the motion to dismiss, leaving a Section 1983 and a Title VI claim.

Here are the materials:


Continue reading

Rhode Island S. Ct. Decision in Narragansett Smoke Shop Case – Gov. Carcieri Doesn’t Have to Testify

The Rhode Island Supreme Court quashed a trial court order compelling Gov. Carcieri to testify in court on the issue of whether state police used excessive force in shutting down the Narragansett smoke shop and arresting many members of the tribe, injuring several people in the process.

Here is the decision.

Fletcher: On Black Freedmen

My newly revised paper, now titled “On Black Freedmen,” should be up on SSRN in the next few days. The paper will be part of Justice Unveiled: African American Culture and Legal Discourse (Lovalerie King & Richard Schur, eds.).

From the Abstract:

            In recent years, some legal, political, and cultural questions involving American Indians have begun to overlap – and conflict – with those of African Americans. The recent Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma’s vote to strip the Black Freedmen of tribal membership generated allegations of racism and calls to force Indian tribes to comply with the Reconstruction Amendments sheds light on this question. This controversy highlights a serious problem in Indian-Black political and social relationships – the discourse of Black-White racism has begun to intrude into the discourse of American Indian law. The Reconstruction Amendments, federal civil rights statutes, and federal case law—all established as a reaction to Black-White racism –– expresses important antidiscrimination principles that can conflict with the foundational elements of American Indian law: tribal sovereignty, the trust relationship, and measured separatism. To import the law of Black-White racism into American Indian law is to destroy American Indian law and, potentially, American Indian culture.


More Impacts of Prop. 2 — Financial Aid

As the news about the 2007-2008 academic year comes out, we will be following the impact of Prop. 2 on minority students and communities in Michigan, with an emphasis on American Indian students.

Details from the Detroit News: “A record number of new freshmen flocked to Michigan public universities this fall, but some scholarship opportunities for the 40,674 students have dried up in light of Proposal 2.

“The constitutional amendment passed by voters last November not only banned preferences based on race and gender in public university admissions, but also shut down financial aid programs geared toward those targeted groups.

“Scholarships for women in engineering, single mothers, Hispanic scholars and high-achieving black students are among the programs that have been eliminated or altered at some of the state’s 15 public universities. In general, university leaders said they didn’t take away scholarships they promised students before Proposal 2 took effect Dec. 23, but the challenge has been how to help incoming classes without violating the law.”


“The Alumni Association of the University of Michigan decided this fall to establish race- and gender-based scholarships after assurances from lawyers that doing so wouldn’t violate the law, leaders said.

“The board set aside $650,000 in seed money and anticipates awarding the first scholarships for incoming students in 2008.

“We wanted to be able to make it possible for alumni and others who want to provide support to do so,” said alumni association president Steve Grafton. “They can’t do that with the university and we can provide that opportunity for them.

“And we are really interested in helping to maintain and build the diversity at the university. This is a recruiting tool that will help the university recruit the very brightest students of color, women in engineering and men in nursing,” he said.

“Much of the debate over Proposal 2 has focused on the University of Michigan, the only state university that admittedly used affirmative action in undergraduate admissions. But the impact of the new constitutional amendment can be felt around the state, as scholarships for students based, in part, on race, gender or ethnicity were not uncommon.

“Universities initiated reviews of all of their scholarship programs. Central Michigan University found four scholarships that involved preferences. CMU didn’t change two slated for Native Americans because they believe those scholarships are based on sovereignty status, not on race.